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Pinocchio and the Meaning of Life

By - Sep 22, 2012 - Category Articles - Print Print

Pinocchio

We all know Pinocchio. This living wooden puppet whose nose grew bigger when he lied and who eventually turned into a real boy. The story of his adventures has arguably become part of our modern mythology. But with numerous versions and adaptations (including the famous 1940 Disney movie), many of us remain unfamiliar with the original story written by Carlo Collodi in the 19th century. Yet it is this original story that can be viewed as providing a brisk and original explanation of the meaning of life. It is therefore worth mentioning the brilliant new translation of the story by Geoffrey Brock published by the New York Review of Books in 2008 (a new edition for children illustrated by Fulvio Testa is scheduled to come out in October 2012).

In an article originally published on his blog, Brendan McPhillips explains why, in his view, this puppet story constitutes a clear and accurate metaphor for the meaning of life itself. He has kindly authorised us to share his article here.

The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi’s 19th century tale about the trials and tribulations of a wooden puppet (the original story not the Disney version), provides a neat explanation of the meaning of life specifically addressing who we are and why we’re here.

Who We Are

Pinocchio perfectly symbolizes our dual nature; our material self and our real self. Of course Pinocchio’s material self is as a wooden puppet. Our material selves aren’t made of wood (although I love the English phrase of describing someone who’s not too intelligent as being “thick as two planks”) but we are made of physical, emotional and mental material that combine to create our body. This is the material self that you’ve come to know and love complete with all its sensations, habits, likes, dislikes, thoughts, habits and attitudes. But there’s more to us than this body.

Pinocchio transforms into a real boy after going through many trials and eventually learning to control himself and express his more virtuous traits. Just so we have a real self that seeks to express itself through a disciplined material self. This real self is the most noble, compassionate and wise part of us. It is the soul or spirit which was created in God’s image. We are designed to realize that this is our true identity. In fact we need to know that we are not material selves who have a soul but rather we are souls who have a material self through which we act in this world.

Why We’re Here

Pinocchio redeems himself by the end of the story by first controlling his natural tendencies then expressing the divine qualities of his real self. Through the majority of the story Pinocchio is belligerent, lazy, dishonest and indifferent. He is always shown the error of his ways and promises to change but he most often repeats the same mistakes. Similarly we often succumb and robotically react to the downward pull of the natural tendencies of our material self to be lazy, annoyed, depressed, impatient, gluttonous, indifferent and ungrateful. When we do this it’s as if we’re becoming more material (i.e. more dense) as symbolized by Pinocchio when he’s being dishonest and his nose grows.

By the end of the story Pinocchio has control of his material self’s natural tendencies and he starts to express the noble qualities of his real self as he is courageous and strong when he saves his father and himself from the belly of the shark and he is compassionate, diligent, patient, selfless, determined, purposeful and productive when he works as a farmhand and provides for his father. After a few months of this he wakes up one morning to find himself in a nice new house, lots of money in his pocket, his father’s health restored and he is transformed into a real boy! Just so, we are here to express the noble divine qualities of spirit through our material selves. We are to build our character so we are more loving, kind, beautiful, wise, tolerant, cheerful, peaceful, courageous and productive. These are some of the divine qualities that our real selves are here to convey. By doing so we are redeeming the world, fulfilling the divine plan and shining our light.

As since the improved ability of the real self to better express this divinity in the material world is the only thing that survives death – it is truly the meaning of life!


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24 comments

  1. Juneone Sep 23, 2012 3:53 pm 1

    Yes! Nice context for talking about this bedtime story.

  2. Sherry B Sep 24, 2012 9:23 pm 2

    This is a beautiful allegory that cleverly illustrates human duality. Thank you.

    On one hand, I am immersed by my daily material tasks, a routine doused in stress, anger, laziness and greed. On the other hand, I am drawn to kindness, helping others and moving closer to the Source.

    The problem is that 99% of my time is spent in the first realm, the dense material space; whereas on rare days, I will occasionally dip into the second dimension, realize that I am more than a material being, but rather a spirit with a higher purpose. I make promises to be more grateful, more sympathetic and more attentive.

    And then suddenly… back to the material realm, where my wooden nose continues to grow, and I don’t even realize it!

  3. A. Sep 26, 2012 3:33 am 3

    “After a few months of this he wakes up one morning to find himself in a nice new house, lots of money in his pocket, his father’s health restored and he is transformed into a real boy!”

    It would be interesting to hear other readers’ experiences on how, as a result of practicing ethics (for His satisfaction), after some time (most often many years) one finds that a certain flaw has either disappeared or become less serious and as a result the person has become a bit more human.

    I for my part have fought against a really nasty flaw for 10 years: jealousy, the kind where you are willing to sacrifice something provided your neighbor does not get it either. Hence it was really nasty and ugly. After fighting more 10 years and enduring all sorts of backlashes from people I was jealous of: for example I would get humiliated from these people even though I ensured my ugly emotions were concealed; in other words the Source would arrange these humiliations as therapies even though I did my best not to show my jealousy… then one day when I had reached the stage where I was fighting out of duty with no hope to ever see any change in my level of jealousy, during my lifetime (I was resigned), I had a very intense feeling of divine love which lasted several hours. Some time afterwards I realized that my initial form of jealousy had been replaced by a much milder form where I only felt envy (in certain situations), and this envy manifested itself as a slight frustration or depression. It was amazing to experience/observe this change. To this day I greatly rejoice at this change and my faith in the Source and in the benefits of practicing natural spirituality has been significantly strengthened.

    Another significant change in my deep nature that I experienced as a result of spiritual practice and His grace, has been a decrease in a superiority complex which haunted me since my early age. This change may have resulted from my submitting and accepting certain humiliating situations, like being demoted at work many times over, whilst trying not complain and avoiding being negative. Interestingly enough, unlike jealousy, I had never quite realized that I felt superior to others until the day this feeling decreased significantly, because my relationships with others became much healthier. For instance, a few years ago some friends whom I considered a bit lazy and laid back, would irritate me for no reason at all. Unlike jealousy, this flaw decreased without me being really aware.

  4. 7 Sep 29, 2012 12:15 pm 4

    @A.
    How did you fight with your jealousy? My envy and jealousy torture me constantly. Don’t know how I can deal with it. This problem has been with me for ever…. How can I fight these ugly feelings when it comes to spirituality? My problem is so severe that I envy you even with your story for the fact that you are getting better! Instead of being happy for you!
    Can you give me an example of the kind of work that can help us fight jealousy?

  5. naghme da Sep 29, 2012 8:58 pm 5

    @7
    The appropriate way to fight against jealousy (which lead us toward malevolence) is to stand before an imaginary mirror to see our own reality in it, meaning to try and evaluate ourselves sincerely and carefully find all our strengths and faults, so each person will find characteristics and advantages that they do not see in others and consequently, if they are fair, their jealousy will subside. In addition, if we have a correct understanding of spirituality, we can remind ourselves that “no one is given anything without first meriting it”; we can acquire such merit too. By the way, being deprived of a benefit may not be related to a lack of merit! It might be our best interest not to have that benefit.

  6. k Sep 30, 2012 11:26 pm 6

    Has anyone read the two new (French) books about Ostad Elahi?
    http://www.fondationostadelahi.fr/
    Scroll down a bit on the web-page.

  7. A. Oct 01, 2012 6:49 am 7

    @7

    I would encourage you read “Overcoming Jealousy” By Beatrice Guernier, Agnes Rousseau which you can find on http://www.karoon.com/ and engage yourself in the different practical exercices they propose

    >My problem is so severe that I envy you even with your story for the fact that you are >getting better!
    You are obviously sincere and that is a fantastic quality, especially very useful in this time and era!! What helped me was my sincerity (I believe). Everytime I met someone spiritually mature who completely controlled his imperious self, I would do my best to try to confess my jealous emotions and thoughts as sincerely as possible. I used to do this even if there were many people present (not that I did not care, but I still tried). Sometimes I got back advises which proved to be great therapies (with hindsight). I believe this accelerated improvement.

  8. MaryS Oct 04, 2012 3:08 am 8

    What a great article. Lately, I have found myself frustrated with life itself and also realized that I have been attached to some materialistic aspects of life. I care too much and expect the best in my life. This has caused a great anxiety in me lately. I have been working on remembering the big picture (who I am, where I have come from, and what I am here to do). When I do a good job on focusing on this, everything around me doesn’t matter anymore. This only lasts that amount of time and then my imperious self comes back into play again. It is all about practicing for me, but of course there are moments where I wished I was better at this. Anyone have any advice for me?

  9. A. Oct 04, 2012 7:33 pm 9

    @7
    I would strongly advise reading “Overcoming Jealousy” by Béatrice Guernier & Agnès Rousseau —which can be ordered online. This book contains a thorough overview of the flaw, its manifestations, and strategies to fight against it. Good luck!

  10. 7 Oct 05, 2012 5:38 pm 10

    @A: I usually confess my jealousy too, it is good to humiliate my ego. Somehow I have been told that I often say bad things about myself (too much), and don’t know, if that is a good virtue? Another problem that I face when I criticize myself is that other people criticize me more. I get overwhelmed and cannot handle it (get little depressed)! May be I am not sincere enough to myself? Thank you for reminding me to read “Overcoming Jealousy”. I have the book, and read it few times over the years. However, I know it is time to read it again, I am sure, there are points there that I did not get before. Besides, I did not try to do the exercises that they proposed, now it is time to start!
    @naghme da: Thank you for your advice.

  11. 7 Oct 05, 2012 5:47 pm 11

    @MaryS: Watching Dr. Elahi’s videos is a huge help for me. Whenever I watch any of them. It gives me the feeling that “I don’t have much time on earth” and I have to work now. Such a blessing that we can watch them on line.

  12. Saga Oct 05, 2012 6:16 pm 12

    I’ve found that a great way to fight jealousy is to pray for that person. Pray that you wish the best things for that person. In the beginning it will feel hard to do so, your imperious self will probably right then come up with reasons why they don’t deserve your prayer. Just keep praying every day for that person. You may or may not see the result in this world. I saw it very clearly. It was very obvious that i was jealous of this one person, because it became like a bad allergy. But I kept praying and praying where it got to the point that when others talked bad about the person, years later I was the one to defend her. One day, I ran into her and it made me actually happy to see her. It was such a surprise and blessing because she told me that she really admired my work and I felt the same way back. That would have never happened if I had been still jealous, and if I had still been that, it would have felt very bad to hear her say those nice things to me or I would have turned it into something negative. It was wonderful to see the result of my efforts, but maybe you won’t in this world, but we all will in the next. Remember that everything bad that has been said behind someone’s back here, will be shown to them in the other world. See God in everyone, love the divine in others and see the ugliness in others as your own reflection looking in to a mirror! How will you go about to change those traits? Others are just tools to help us understand ourselves better. Let’s direct the focus towards ourselves instead. “Don’t compare the best in you with the worst in them!”

  13. A. Oct 09, 2012 3:22 pm 13

    @7
    “I usually confess my jealousy too, it is good to humiliate my ego. Somehow I have been told that I often say bad things about myself (too much), and don’t know, if that is a good virtue? Another problem that I face when I criticize myself is that other people criticize me more. I get overwhelmed and cannot handle it (get little depressed)! Maybe I am not sincere enough to myself?”

    I really would not confess my flaws to others, because since most people are under the rule of their imperious self the only result is that they will judge you negatively. When you tell people your negative traits they most often do not realize they also suffer from the same flaws, because they do not know themselves. I believe this is true even for people who have faith, let alone for authentic atheists. Since you are a sincere person (this is great!), use your sincerity instead to confess your most embarrassing “negative thoughts, negative emotions, negative needs..” to someone who completely controls his/her imperious self (even if other people are present). This is what I would do if I were in your shoes, but I would generally not tell my flaws to people outside this context.

  14. A Oct 09, 2012 3:38 pm 14

    “… also realized that I have been attached to some materialistic aspects of life. I care too much and expect the best in my life. This has caused a great anxiety in me lately… It is all about practicing for me, but of course there are moments where I wish I were better at this. Does anyone have any advice for me?”

    We are all the same; we are all attached to some aspects of material life and end up suffering from this attachment. To keep looking at things as part of the big picture, what has worked well for me are regular intimate conversations with the Source. If they are regular (say every 3 hours) this helps me keep my imperious self at bay.

  15. ashi Oct 10, 2012 12:17 pm 15

    The Blue Fairy saves Pinocchio and restores his life, this time making him a real boy. And so, in the end, we see that a former “naughty boy” can become a worthy person by being brave, truthful and unselfish. Hooray for the Blue Fairy!

  16. ashi Oct 10, 2012 12:25 pm 16

    The most beautiful human creature in “Pinocchio” is the Blue Fairy.
    After Geppetto wishes for Pinocchio to be a real boy, she descends from a star to teach him right from wrong. Her advice is to “always let your conscience be your guide”.

  17. 7 Oct 10, 2012 12:50 pm 17

    @ A.
    Thank you. Regarding anxiety, I suffered from lots of anxiety in my life! Since anxiety is all our fears! The only thing that worked and works when my anxiety is manifesting is “natural medication”. I just talk to God of the time, try to feel His presence, imagining Him sitting front of me and I tell Him why I am so anxious! What works even better most of the time is writing to Him and trying to analyze my fears!

  18. MaryS Oct 12, 2012 2:30 am 18

    @7 and @A
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. It is so funny because I began to have conversations with God throughout the day as well before I read your comments. It has helped so tremendously. For instance, yesterday it took me away from worrying and made me realize that I am here on earth to work on myself. It was relaxing to think about because the attachment I had to the situation I was with slowly went away. Now that I have read that you both do this as well, I feel at ease. I will take it as a sign that what I am in the right path to fixing this defect.

  19. f. Oct 12, 2012 10:44 pm 19

    @A
    The relation between the superiority complex and to be irritated with friends being lazy and laid back, was a very clarifying explanation for me about my behavior.

  20. s Oct 14, 2012 3:52 am 20

    I’ve heard that if you feel anxiety you should tell yourself that the situation that you’re afraid of isn’t actually happening, because when it does actually happen, then the body normally goes into anotger mode instead of fear. So if you become afraid and get anxiety, you will know that It’s actually not happening. Also another good way is to not act like a child and think: “I guess I’m not suppose to be happy, It’s my own fault for trusting people” etc, and think that whatever happened it was probably for the best and also try to find ways for improvement. See everything as lessons.

  21. abambul Oct 28, 2012 2:21 am 21

    This is a really interesting comparison and analysis. Even if I only know the kids version, it makes good sense. I find it great to find a bit of “Thruth” in modern day medias (such as movies, books, music…), to find a bit of what I have perceived and learned about life, as little as I know. Earlier today I was thinking about the end of The Lord of the Ring, the heroes sail to a more peaceful country which reminds me of what Ostad Elahi calls “the world of the perfect”. Here’s another allegory!
    Thanks for this article.

  22. 7 Oct 31, 2012 1:45 pm 22

    @A.
    “since most people are under the rule of their imperious self the only result is that they will judge you negatively. When you tell people your negative traits they most often do not realize they also suffer from the same flaws, because they do not know themselves”

    This is amazing! I have been thinking about your advice. If I be able to digest and understand each situation emotionally. My negative feelings changes to compassion and love toward people who try to put me down! and of course I totally agree with you, that I should not confess my flaws to others.

  23. adissam Nov 03, 2012 3:13 am 23

    @s
    I’ve also exeprienced that autosuggestion helps alleviate stress and anxiety.
    In addition, I tried to reflect on the cause of this anxiety and found that it stems from my animal part (terrestrial soul or id as described here).

    In my experience, it has been a difficult period in my life that has strengthened my relationship with the One.
    And it has shown me that He is the strongest support in difficult times -and actually, in any situation.

    A practical approach I’ve been using, is to fight against this animal impulse by using an opposite force and/or reason: “You should not have fear” and/or I remember how life’s events have proved me that He is the strongest support.

  24. naghme da Nov 06, 2012 6:10 am 24

    The benefit of NATURAL MEDITATION is we become more at peace with ourselves and difficulties of life upset us less. We feel greater reliance, confidence, hope and prosperity. It’s sufficient to try to envision His presence beside us, believe that He is always with us in order to help. We just need to focus our attention on the Source so we can go deeply in inner guide. It’s good to remind ourselves that we always have an inner guide at the core of us that knows everything—where to go, what to do, how to do it—at each moment. In difficult times, our minds can be beset by cross-currents of worry, fear, anger, grief. Sometimes it can seem difficult to know what to do, or how to proceed. It is accessible just by turning inward in sincere openness and humility, and asking. “Ask, and you will receive.” Because it is impossible to ask the inner guide and not receive; it’s always available.

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